Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Factrix - Scheintot


AOTM #58, March 2005ce
Released 1981 on Adolescent Records
Side One:
  1. Eerie Lights (4.05)
  2. Heavy Breathing (4.58)
  3. Center of the Doll (4.56)
  4. Thin Line (2.20)
  5. Anemone Housing (2.21)
Side Two:
  1. Over My Shoulder (And Out Of My Life) (3.10)
  2. Ballad of the Grim Rider (4.17)
  3. Snuff Box (4.43)
  4. Phantom Pain (5.05)

Gothedelick K.O.

Travelling through the USA with The Teardrop Explodes during 1980-82, and always in a psychedelic condition, I was strongly aware through my meetings with umpteen kohl-eyed LSD-informed edge-of-towners that the more extreme elements of the W. Coast American Underground were in the process of appropriating many facets (both musically fundamental and sartorial stylistic) of the equivalent English and New York scenes; but subsuming them all into a uniquely ‘Gothadelick’ melage of their very own. And so it was that on the terrifically heatful American Pacific coast, incongruous long macs and the Germanic funk of the English Northern scene came to be conflated into the more obviously Banshee/Cureified darkness and dyed black hair of the post-punk south of England, and the wailing wall-eyed immediately-post-Blank Generation stares of arch NY so-jazz smackies, to manifest in San Francisco as groups such as Patrick Miller’s disturbing Minimal Man and Messrs. Bergland, Jacobs & Palme’s even more disturbing Factrix. Alongside such artists as Monte Cazazza and Boyd Rice, the aforementioned were responsible for creating unearthly and unexpectedly vampiric blends of A Certain Ratio’s “All Night Party” 45, Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Slugbait’, Cabaret Voltaire’s canon of Krautdub, the Detroit rock-through-an-ERASERHEAD filter of Chrome, the NO NEW YORK Do-Nuthing distorto-epic that was Mars circa “Hairwaves”, the micro-orbiting dirges of 1977/78 Pere Ubu’s “My Dark Ages”/“Chinese Radiation”/”Laughing”, etc. If the EDWARD SCISSORHANDS soundtrack had been supplied by Hollywood musos using Factrix’s SCHEINTOT LP as their blueprint, it would have created a perfect snapshot of the hairbrushed post-punk twilight zone that was the 70s/80s gateway.

Huddled in concert

Unfortunately, however, Factrix’s wonderfully greedy metaphor was undermined by their sheer extremeness. Despite opening their career with the amazing industrial funk assault of their debut single “Empire of Passion”, Factrix wasn’t ever gonna be a singles band. Coming across like English post-punks playing an all-night Final Solution gig at the Acklam Hall, they really shoulda been treading the same stages as Clock DVA, Prag Vec, early Manicured Noise (pre-Steve Walsh version) and their ilk in order to get anywhere. From my own experiences from late ’78 onwards - those were days when Fast Product-style bands made three or four singles before they started to make a dent in anyone’s consciousness. The intense rivalry spurred people on, whereas Factrix was 6,000 miles from where the boys were. True, Bergland and Palme had begun life as part of Patrick Miller’s Minimal Man project, playing four shows in that configuration. But even the rivalry generated between their split was never gonna be enough fuel for their flames. From the gathered evidence, even after supporting such illuminati as Sheffield’s Cabaret Voltaire, Arto Lindsay’s screechy DNA, and Australian ur-primitives SPK (SoliPsisticK), the overall Factrix career was apparently such a downer that it temporarily destroyed the mind of each member and saw them return from their only tour homeless and (it is said) destitute. Unfathomable and unlistenable to all but the most ardent adepts (and subscribers to SORDIDE SENTIMENTALE, natch!) at a time when almost everyone in the real underground had a least opened their ears to accommodate the coming Industrial sounds, the Factrix trio’s miniscule output and often almost rhythmless take on all of the above-mentioned artists made the group virtually unreachable; so much so indeed that they have become forgotten over the past decades and not even been celebrated with a CD re-release until very recently1 – and even then not in their original musical sequences.

Both sides of the portal

However, Time itself is the real judge of true art, and those NO NEW YORK ‘art terrorists’ are now no more than the archaic fart feasts of yesteryear – temporary jazz sneezes into an already too-damp snotrag. The dismembered music of Factrix, on the other hand, grows more contemporary by the year. And, as their sole LP SCHEINTOT is as genuinely disturbing and richly disorientating a piece of Death-warmed-up as you would ever wish to investigate, I figured now was the time – in these post-Khanatean days – to heft some of its drumbox deathray drool your way. And, whilst Factrix was a handsome trio of black-clad Jim Morrison-on-a-Robert Smithtrip death post-punks from inner space, playing bizarre subterranean cemetery non-blues, it was an incredibly precise piece of genius to name their debut LP SCHEINTOT, for this is the German equivalent of ‘suspended animation’ or a ‘state of apparent death’ – describing the muse-sick of Factrix perfectly. Indeed, Factrix could never have been described as ‘drum machine-driven’ in the early-Bunnymen/Sisters of Mercy manner, quite the opposite in fact. For whilst the whilst the Scythian guitar of Bond Bergland, the burbling electronic FX of Cole Palme, and bouncing octave bass of Joseph Jacobs often created its own propulsion, the drumbox itself often stuttered and spluttered against the beat like some sweating office junior inappropriately and unconsciously plucking at his boss’ Newton’s Cradle during an important office meeting. In the midst of all this sonic catering, the interplay between the voices of Bergland, Palme and Jacobs added another horizon of sound, simultaneously human and inhuman, as one band member narrated from the front line whilst the other two sung, droned, intoned and plainsong (plainsung?) together. Like a scene from POLTERGEIST, Factrix music conjures up the disjointed sounds of a haunted house with perpetually bizarre goings-on, as increasingly bored TV journalists narrate the previous day’s activities from the safety of the garden gate. It was these simultaneously personal and impersonal perspectives that drove the Factrix muse on and on.

But that weren’t nearly enough for these Poe faced kiddies, no, dear me no. These druids had to go umpteen seven-league boot strides further, and illustrate the back cover of their LP sleeve with a tomb rubbing from the back of Ralph Hamsterly’s bizarre 16th century Oxfordshire grave at the chillingly-named Doddington – ‘farm [ton] at the judgement centre [ting] of the dead [dod]’. Then they had their sinister mate Monte Cazazza (himself a twilighter supreme) set up a front cover photograph that involved a naked female friend seemingly being disrobed by a ancient skeletal hand so perished that wire was necessary to clamp them drybones together. Obviously informed by Mik Mellen’s bizarrely unfinished Cleveland industrial photographs of the mid/late 70s, this half-scene-through-a-semi-closed-door vision of their world propels the listener into a dreamlandscape somewhat akin to that sacred phantom downland conjured up on The Residents’ NOT AVAILABLE.


“It Was Taking Us To Some Very Dark Places”

For the creation of the ultimate possible form of Rock’n’roll music, I’ve always reckoned on needing a balance of about 65% Tradition to about 35% Novelty. In this way, your song can still be propelled along by a candy-assed cliché of a hookline that everyone reckons to have heard a zillion times before (The Traditional element), because the context in which that cliché finds itself is unbalanced enough to bring something entirely new to the party (The Novelty element). The greatest purveyors of Rock’n’roll always seem to have adhered to this formula, Suicide, Prince, Outkast being great cases in point, but The Velvet Underground still being ur-practitioners of the Ult.

However, such simplistic rules go right out of the window when addressing the so-called Experimental Music scene. Indeed, I’d probably have to go simultaneously in both of the other directions if asked to make the case for presenting The Alchemical Instruction Book for the Optymum Methodes of Reachyng Most Effectyve Experimental Musics, and say that travelling ‘all the way to 100% cliché’ is possibly even more effective than the route that follows the signpost reading ‘100% novelty’. In other words, just as Kimmy the Fowl’s OUTRAGEOUS was a spoof psychedelic Death & Resurrection Trip that still functioned as the real thing, so in the same way can true psychedelic disorientation be genuinely achieved simply by putting together a rigorous assortment of such obvious ingredients as Sabbath doom chord changes and Hammer Horror sound FX, weakshit bubbling drumboxes, portentous Lizard King proclamations, squirrly analogue ARP-ness, Brion Gysin-style early cut-up doomalogues about rotten and drowned muses; and all done whilst wearing white face, black clothes and hairstyles a la Tristan Tzara. Which is why Factrix, a trip forged entirely of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs tails can be so successful artistically AND useful psychically. Yup, even if it’s ultimately just a Pyrrhic Victory for Rock’n’roll, listening to “Horse Latitudes” as performed by autistic adolescents in Charles Manson’s boxroom is always gonna be a worthwhile exercise to your most seasoned Inner Space Traveller. Taking a look at the Factrix trio’s instrument list (and the manner in which it is described) is itself a journey through their own prolapsing minds:
BOND BERGLAND: guitars, vocals, tape treatments, viola, radioguitar, percussion, drum machine, processing, zither, teakettle
COLE PALME: vocals, glaxobass, multimoog, tape treatments, drum machine, processing, amputated bass
JOSEPH JACOBS: bass guitar, fretless bass, drum machine, vocals, tape treatments, pennywhistle, migh-wiz, saz, doumbek, flute, percussion

Concert Poster

Like the early Chrome experiments, to which guitarists John Lambdin and Gary Spain often added disconnected droning electric violins, the many defocusing elements offered by this floating Factrix line-up disabled the listeners’ ability to judge the music on any other level than the FX of the overall sound. Indeed, so disconnected was the Factrix sonic stew that sometimes the only graspable and protruding reference point (perhaps a doomy guitar hook, or maybe a repeated yet still-unearthly vocal) instantly became massive and almost poppy to the listener, purely because it was being made by something from within the realms of their own experiences. It’s a bit like those Residents-produced Snakefinger records that came out on Ralph Records around 1978, insofar as we all imagined his phantom backing band to be ghostly unreachable Alien Muppets, but at least Snakefinger himself was a guitarist/singer, albeit one who inhabited cartoon landscapes.

Admittedly, SCHEINTOT is hardly the kind of LP that should be given a song-by-song description, save to say that, in context, “Ballad of the Grim Rider” sounds like a Top 10 hit merely because it has a graspable form (and don’t get me started on the Odinist imagery that pervades their entire oeuvre). But SCHEINTOT is a record that deserves to be experienced several times, preferably in the darkness and in a state of near exhaustion (and/or informed by psychoactive chemicals). Its only failure in the dark light of the early 21st century is to be a half-hour to short – and even that could be remedied by several back-to-back playings without overly wearing out the (what) hooklines. Sitting some way between Germany’s ultra playful Der Plan and Throbbing Gristle’s Gen-driven death music, the underlying heartbeating non-groove that informs all Factrix music is always a truly human one, a beeping crab skank that takes you forever two steps forward and three steps back. But if you accept the Factrix metaphor of suspended animation and give yourself to SCHEINTOT’s unyielding form, listeners will soon reach below the incurably arch vocals into a pre-temple-building nomadic (and still-glacial) nether world somewhere close to that archaic place where the Frost Giants played and the nomadic Trickster kept his prick stuffed into a box that he carried around on his back. Let me take you down, ‘cause I’m going too!

  1. Released at the beginning of 2003 by Germany’s Storm Records, the double-CD set ARTIFACT includes the whole of the SCHEINTOT LP on the first disc, commencing with their 45RPM debut ‘Empire of Passion’ and its B-side ‘Spice of Life’. Terminally disorientating and zoned out of its tiny mind, this package reveals many of the tricks that those few SCHEINTOT fans could have only guessed at down the years. The photographic sequence that led Monte Cazazza to his final LP cover shot is particularly arresting. This FACTRIX release is available for $22 from tesco-distro.com or €17 from tesco-germany.com

Singles Discography

‘Empire of Passion’ b/w ‘Splice of Life’ (1980 Adolescent)
‘Prescient Dreams’ b/w ‘Zanoni’ (with Monte Cazazza)

Album Discography

SCHEINTOT (1981 Adolescent)
CALIFORNIA BABYLON with Monte Cazazza (1982 Subterranean)
ARTIFACT (2003 Tesco)

Appearances on Compilations

Two tracks (“Night to Forget” and ‘Subterfuge”) on
the compilation LIVE ON TARGET (Subterranean 1980)